In the last few days, my friend, Sherry Jones, Academic Dean of the Center for Urban Theological Studies (CUTS) in Philadelphia, and I have been talking. Sherry and I have spoken together in public a number of times on the topic of race, faith, and identity in Christ (click here). She’s black, and, obviously, I’m white. “So Sherry," I ask, "Charleston?” Her words slowly emerge. “Unspeakable sadness,” “seemingly irrepressible disdain for black skin,” “escalating hatred” bound up with phrases about pain “slicing deep into the place where Jesus Christ lives and calls me His.” She acknowledges that as one cut so deep (so many times), she does not “bleed His forgiving blood as quickly as those Charleston church members.” “I’ll get there,” she said. “Like Corrie Tin Boom when confronted with the Nazi guard instrumental in her sister’s death…”
I am grateful for Sherry’s willingness to tell me the truth. Sigh. That doesn’t, of course, undo her pain or answer the larger cultural questions. Her speaking and my listening aren’t the instant path forward for the body of Christ. Nor do we pretend to suddenly cease being women of particular ethnic and cultural backgrounds. But we know that we are created by the same Father, redeemed by the same Son, and indwelt by the same Spirit. The blood of Jesus runs in her veins and mine. When she is cut that deeply and bleeds, in some sense—particularly because I love her—I bleed too. It makes me want to reach for something to stop the bleeding. I wish Jesus’ blood would stop the blood letting in this life. It makes me long for His return, and I pray for this.
Then I ask Sherry, “So…think of my white Christian friends whom you’ve met. What would you hope we could know down in our bones?” She gives three answers:
1) “Please educate yourself; don’t leave it up to people of color to teach you. And,” she added, “commit to remain teachable as you read, to hold another’s perspective and pain without instant defense.” (Sherry says this is a rich reading list (click here). Additionally, Mark Noll’s book: God and Race in American Politics gives a helpful historical overview not just of politics but of the place of evangelical theology and the white and black church in this history. )
2) “Read your Bible. Believe what you read. There are such things as strongholds, demonic presences, the influence of the sin nature. Believe it and fight against the world, the flesh and the devil. White supremacy didn’t die when Obama became President.” (For a solid and accessible Bible study on oppression, generational sin, and bridge building, click here.)
3) “If you do the above two things, make it your responsibility to tell the people in your life what you've learned, what's going on in your heart, and what God is saying to you.”
So, reading the Bible (prophets like Amos), history, and my own heart, and being in ongoing relationship with friends like Sherry, over the years I've learned that generational sin and strongholds around power and ethnicity are real. And as this precious friend of mine has asked—for the sake of God’s big eternal purposes, starting on earth as it is in heaven—let's commit to reading history, our Bibles, and our hearts, with teachable spirits, willing to do what He says. And let's ask for more friendships where we can “go there” around pain and anger, believing that Jesus' blood does open the way to forgiveness, transformation and active expressions of His will, on earth as it will be in heaven.